Free Market Fridays offers free, fresh produce at county’s three community gardens

Community garden_PACA_inside

By Randy Arrington

LURAY, June 22 — The first of three Free Market Fridays will occur tomorrow at the community garden in Luray adjacent to Page Memorial Hospital. Each distribution of free produce occurs from 9 a.m. to noon, with the next two events taking place at the two other community gardens in Page County — July 28 in Stanley, and Aug. 18 in Shenandoah.

“It’s available for everyone,” volunteer Taylor Alger said. “We like for people to come and help [with the garden], but people can show up and get what they want.”

Page Alliance for Community Action (PACA), which promotes healthy living for youth and families in Page County, launched the community garden program in 2020, not long after the COVID-19 pandemic began, with a location near the dialysis center at the rural health clinic in Stanley on Medical Drive. The second garden came in 2021 on the Page Memorial Hospital campus in Luray, with the third following in 2022 at the rural healthcare center in Shenandoah near Rudy’s restaurant and T-Bowl lanes.

In 2022, the three community gardens combined produced 1,600 pounds of fresh produce used by community members, the Page One food bank, and local schools.

“We started them as a way to raise awareness about nutrition and eating healthy,” PACA program director Megan Gordon said. “There was a gardening class at Massanutten Regional Library in Luray, and we dedicated a plot to them with each square foot planted by a different kid. There were 20 kids in the class, and they planted eggplant, broccoli, cabbage, zucchini and sunflowers.”

Similar educational opportunities were offered to kids at the West Luray Rec Center and in Page County Public Schools. The local school division utilizes some of the produce in its summer meals program and in cafeterias at various schools. A group from a local middle school visited the garden to help learn a science lesson on seeds. Agriculture students have visited to learn about planting techniques.

The gardens have been cared for by more than 100 volunteers of all ages, according to Gordon, but she says each location has about 10 to 15 core volunteers, with two designated “Garden Buddies.”

“Most are Master Gardeners and they live close to the garden,” Gordon said of the “Buddies”. “It’s been good to see that group of volunteers grow.”

Each community garden contains 10 plats measuring four feet wide and 16 feet long filled with numerous nutritious offerings like tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans, peas, carrots (new), garlic (new), potatoes (new), beets (new), asparagus (next year), strawberries, lettuce, spinach, kale, peppers, squash, cantaloupe and watermelon…among others. Crops are rotated and changed according to the demand and the season, but they are continuously managed for about nine months out of the year, only being down November through January. Even in February, they begin to produce some “leafy greens,” according to Gordon.

The PACA director says that Free Market Fridays offer an opportunity to distribute the gardens’ bounty directly to the community, as well as providing a place for youth to learn about basic agriculture and nutrition, and offer nutritious food and recipes to the elderly and others in need. It matches the project’s mission of “Learn, share, grow.”

And the fence is only there to keep out the critters, the entire community is invited to get involved to “grow” this program even bigger to help even more people.

“The Towns have been a tremendous help. Each one stepped up to help with the install, emptying trash cans and sometimes even getting dirt…and the hospital has been great as well, giving us access to water,” Gordon said. “This also offers the opportunity for community service hours, for either adults who have been given community service or for students earning credits, or even for civic clubs that want to get involved…this is a great way to give back to the community.”

The community gardens in Page County have drawn students from James Madison University to lend a helping hand, and even one of the first graduates of Page County’s new drug court is among the volunteers.

The gardens are self-serve most of the time, with the following procedures noted at each:

  • You will find a plastic bin in each garden containing gardening tools, a scale, and a log book.
  • Please use whatever you need to weed adn harvest. Weigh the produce you choose to take and record it in the log book.
  • Please return all items to the bin before leaving and return again soon!

A survey conducted by the local Virginia Cooperative Extension office found that food security was more of an issue in the local community than some might think.

“Every participant [in the survey] said [community gardens] helped them stretch their food dollars,” Alger noted. “It also lead to healthier living by using fresh produce to make meals.”

Recipes for healthy dishes will be shared at Free Market Fridays as well as other eating and gardening tips. Citizens are urged to bring their own bags and come shopping for free, fresh produce at all three community garden locations in Page County.

Perhaps one of the events will even see the return of the smoothie bike provided by the Extension Office, where visitors sat and pedaled a bike to make a smoothie with ingredients straight from the garden.

Those who would like to help build up compost for the gardens can bring compost items to the Daughter of the Stars Farmers Markets in Shenandoah and Luray on the first and third Saturdays of the month, respectively, through November. Bins will be available at both market locations for organic materials such as egg shells, coffee grinds, and fruit and vegetable scraps — but please do not place meat, dairy or oils in the compost bins.

Seasonal Produce from Page County’s Community Gardens

• APRIL/MAY — Strawberries, lettuce, radishes, cabbage, spinach, kale

• MAY/JUNE — Cucumbers, greens, herbs, peas, strawberries

• JUNE/JULY — Beans, cucumbers, herbs, peppers, squash, strawberries

• JULY/AUGUST — Beans, cantaloupes, cucumbers, eggplant, herbs, peppers, squash, strawberries, tomatoes, watermelons

• AUGUST/SEPTEMBER — Beans, cantaloupes, cucumbers, eggplant, herbs, peppers, squash, strawberries, tomatoes, watermelons

For more information about the availability of fresh food in the Page Valley,




PACA teams up with Valley Health to plant community garden

PACA swim program among non-profits to receive total of $18,000 from SVEC’s Operation Round Up

‘Polar Burst’ proves to be big hit at PACA’s 5th annual Polar Plunge

Farm Ministry donates 200 pounds of beef to PACA and Page One

Turkey Trot draws 180 to support PACA and fitness

PACA awarded Virginia ABC grant to educate students on harmful effects of alcohol and drugs

PACA’s ‘Float Your Boat’ cardboard boat regatta draws more than 100 to Lake Arrowhead

PACA receives $2,500 donation from Afresh Cleaning Services

PACA and Arise benefit from Operation Round Up awards of nearly $24,000 to area organizations

PACA awarded No Kid Hungry grant to facilitate ‘porch visits’

PACA receives $125K grant to promote a ‘drug-free community’

PACA awarded grant for 21st-century Community Learning Center at PCMS

Top Post Ad

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.